Posted by: Matt Compton | April 7, 2008

Barnes & Noble’s bad return policy

I ran down to Chinatown yesterday and visited the Barnes & Noble on 12th Street. I walked around, caught my breath, and scoped out a few books which had caught my interest. Then, as I was leaving, I noticed a sign detailing a new return policy.

Apparently, the entire chain now only accepts returns within 14 days, and then, only with a receipt. I stopped to ask a clerk why they had made the change, and she explained that many retail stores (not just those which sold books) were going to this model — B&N just felt the need to keep up with current trends. She did tell me about one exception, however — books received as gifts can be returned within 30 days so long as there is a gift receipt.

On the whole, this is an awful policy — one which only serves to hurt the store’s best customers.

Books aren’t like other some other commodities; one sold at Store A will have the exact same content as one sold at Store B. It’s not as if B&N faces a wave of people trying to return knockoff versions of the new John Grisham novel.

Barnes & Noble is a powerful chain — with a massive, efficient infrastructure which allows it to set prices for its best sellers as low as it wants them. There surely isn’t some epidemic of costumers attempting to make a profit by returning books bought with steeper discounts at other places.

Most bookstores only accept returns that are in new condition — that means the spine must be unbroken, the pages clean, the cover crisp. I can’t imagine that B&N is facing a horde of bibliophiles who are using the store as a personal library, buying scores of books and then returning them upon completion.

I’d love to read a good reason for this change, but even considering how much time I spend with books, in bookstores, I’m struggling to come up with one. This just seems like a big chain that doesn’t care about the convenience of its costumers at all.

Forcing someone to have a receipt, even for a book that has been given as a gift, is certainly within the rights of the store, but it seems unnecessary and mean-spirited. More obnoxious still is the fact that fourteen days is an undeniably short window of time to arrange for a return if a book is unwanted but an awfully long period of time in which to keep up with a slip of paper.

For many costumers this might not be a big deal. For those who read the most, however, I can promise that it will pose problems. A true bibliophile always run the risk of discovering that she has just bought a copy of a book that already exists in her library. Her friends always run the risk of gifting a duplicate.

I’ve tried to defend the chain bookstore in the past. They offer neighborhoods all across this country a wealth of resources and knowledge that would have seemed unbelievable just a few decades in the past. They lower the barriers of access, and through competition with each other, make books more affordable. In many ways, they are a remarkable cultural innovation. But actions like this make it hard for me to keep singing their praises.

The book business is on the cusp of some fundamental changes.

Amazon has already brought about significant shifts in the business model — driving down consumer costs even more, opening up a back catalogue of every book in print, offering used booksellers a marketplace that reaches a seemingly-infinite number of customers.

With the release of the Kindle, the web company is well on its way to something even more revolutionary. Others have released electronic book devices in the past. Some have even had a measure of success. None, though, comes close to the Kindle. It’s not a pretty device, but months after its release, there is still a waiting list to get access to it. The pricing and access to new releases are both awesome. Even more importantly, you can buy new books instantly and anywhere. And, of course, using the Kindle, you can carry hundreds of books everywhere, all the time.

I already buy many of my books from Amazon. I’m probably less than a year away from making an investment in a Kindle or a comparable gadget (come on Apple, let’s see what you’ve got). Policies like those of Barnes & Noble are pushing me to choose a digital future faster than I otherwise would. And I’m a guy who easily buys 100 books a year. All of which leaves me to wonder — what kind of future do the chain stores have?



  1. Great article. (Typo in it, tho: CUSTOMERS, not COSTUMERS). 🙂

  2. Totally agree with BN’s poor return policy. It makes me not want to shop there. I have two $50 books I bought 26 days ago that I just found out I can’t return or even exchange.

  3. p3kns9is1lzgom0w

  4. Well! That’s that. They said 30 day return policy with or without receipt. If no receipt, they used to give store credit. That was OK.. I used to spend about 300-400 dollars in BN. When you buy books sometime you tend to buy just by reading the review or scan through pages in the store and think they are good books. Then when you buy a lot of books some books tend to be crapy and u want to return it. Well, with the receipt only policy that was OK, at the end of the day you got your money back. With no return after 14 days? even after a receipt, that sucks. Well! let me tell you something,, and hunders of other stores on line will sell the same book about 20-30% off than BN. Advantage of BN store was that you could return fast if you didn’t like it after all you paid a full price of the book. I shop oneline anyway, now, another reason to avoid expensive buy from BN instead get one from amazon or other stores on line cheaper, faster and delivered right at your door step. Good buy BN. One day, this will catch up with you.

  5. Their new policy very much sucks.

    The old policy was great. For the old policy, the back of the receipt read that you could get cash back for 30 days if you had a receipt. If the return was after 30 days or w/out a receipt, you’d get store credit. As someone who doesn’t like to patronize (political reasons), I did a lot of shopping at Amazon is slightly cheaper on most things, usually only because they don’t charge tax. does. But if you’re a BN member, you can get everything for almost the same price Amazon offered. Some things were cheaper on than on Amazon.

    I always liked supporting a better business model (politics again). And I liked being able to return to a brick & mortar store. Amazon returns are a pain in the butt, repackaging and all. They never gave me static on returns when I returned them at BN stores, no matter how long I’d had it (Occasionally some snotty employee would give a little ‘tude, but you get that wherever you go). That’s with or without receipt). They’d just give me store credit for the amount. I was happy to use it there.

    This new policy BLOWS!! 14 days???? My closest B&N is 60 miles away (one-way), and I rarely go there. I go most often to the beautiful store in (West) Madison, Wisconsin. Even that store though, I’m lucky to get to once per month. 14 days simply isn’t long enough. I won’t be buying near as many books at B&N I’m afraid, and that bothers me. I hate to give business to Amazon or Border’s (Border’s policy is 30 days…no returns after 30 days with receipt…no returns period without receipt).

    I complained about this to a B&N manager. She said, “That’s the way the industry is going.” Blah!!

    *One caveat. If you ask for a gift receipt (in-store only, this isn’t available on their site for some reason), you have 60 days to return the item for store credit. You can’t get your money back, but you can get store credit. That’s all I ever wanted anyway. BUT, you have(!) to hang on to your gift receipt obviously.

  6. I am not going to buy any books from NB, as the return policy changed.

  7. I bought books for Christmas for my son and just found out that another relative had purchased them also, one of us is going to get stuck with books we don’t need because it’s been 20 days or so since we made the purchase. No more BN for me, especially at Christmas!

  8. I just noticed their policy today when I bought a book at a Br & Mor store after a long time.

    I would stay away from them in future

  9. I understand the frustration, but the fact of the matter is, people COULD take advantage of the older return policy, now that it’s possible to buy so cheaply on special deals online. A couple points:

    -certainly the “profits” from buying a book cheaply somewhere else (or online) and exchanging it for cash at Barnes and Noble would be meager, but what about larger items that they sell? they do more than books now, DVD’s, computer stuff, etc.

    -Barnes and Noble, along with every other retailer is having to offer some pretty steep discounts and sales at the moment. what prevents someone from buying a book on a deep sale, and then trying to exchange it for cash once its sale has ended?

    -in the end, all Barnes and Noble is doing is saying that if you buy a book and want to return it you have to have a receipt. isn’t the same as virtually EVERY other bookseller? do you think you could walk into your local independent book shop with a random book and demand cash with no proof you’ve bought it from them? certainly not.

    -every time I give a book as a gift, I give a gift receipt. around holidays they almost always ask me if I need one at Barnes and Noble or elsewhere. now that this policy is in place, why not just get one when you buy a book as a gift? it’s not particularly taxing.

    I do agree that Barnes and Noble should have had a longer interim period before they switched their policy entirely, so that everyone was on the same page (har har). but still, I don’t think their putting on their evil empire cap just yet. this is a pretty standard policy.

  10. Again, I don’t have a problem with not accepting returns without receipts. I understand it’s possible for people to buy something somewhere (Target) for $20 and return it to B&N for $55 in credit. I don’t think it’s a HUGE deal, since B&N can re-sell the item to pay for the credit issued…..but I can live with it.

    But when someone has a valid receipt?? Fine, take their driver’s license # if it’s over $15 or whatever (that way you can keep track of someone using the store like a library). Only allow people a % of the amount they spend as returns….or only allow a certain # of returns per year…or a certain $$ amount of returns per year. But don’t change the policy so that honest customers are completely screwed.

    Every retailer is tightening return policies…partly due to return fraud (someone stealing something and returning it for cash or credit) and partly because Americans are dumb and only want low cost, regardless of the level of customer service. This is part of the reason customer service is dead. Everyone wants Mall-Wart prices and cheap crap. Nobody wants to pay for anything. As a result, customer service dies in favor of simply offering the cheapest everything.

    Anyway, Amazon is cancelling customers for returning things too. Google it. It blows because I receive damaged items all the time, now I feel like I can’t return them (for fear of having my account cancelled). If the corner of a book is dog-eared, bent back, torn….you won’t get as much if you try to sell it to Half Price books or whatever. Yet you can’t return it to Amazon for a replacement because they’ll cancel your account if you do it too often (however much that is).

    REMEMBER TO ASK FOR A GIFT RECEIPT FROM B&N! You then have 60 days to return the item for a full store credit. If you don’t want to be tracked, simply pay in cash (and don’t use a B&N member card when you pay for it).

  11. Barnes & Noble has an asinine policy. I received a set of books not to my taste as a gift. The gift giver provided me the cash register receipt for the product purchase. The item was purchased 7-30-09 and I received it 8-23-09.

    When I went to the B&N store nearest me on 8-23-09, I was told returns or exchanges with register receipts could only be made within 14 days after purchase. I explained I had just received the item and it was still sealed in their plastic wrap. No dice. They wouldn’t take it… even with the receipt, in NEW condition, and with me only wanting to make an exchange… it wasn’t even like I wanted CASH!!

    Only then did I read the back of the receipt and it said with a GIFT receipt items could be returned or exchanged up to 60 days later! 60 days!!!

    I always thought a receipt was a receipt!

    I e-mailed B&N to give them a chance to make good on this but I am doubtful they’ll do anything or even care.

  12. I was just made aware of Barnes and Noble’s 14 day return policy recently when I went there to purchase a Linux reference manual for a college coarse I am taking this winter semester. This past fall I was just laid off and currently unemployed as many other Americans now are and decided to go back to school to retool my skills. So, money is tight.

    Through the college’s website I was able to determine which book(s) were needed for the course so I was prepared for the 1st day of class. I found the required reference manual at Barnes & Noble and purchased it a week before class started. Come to find out, during the 1st day of class, that the reference manual was not required. The following week I went to return it and B & N refused since it had been 18 days, 4 days past their 14 day return policy.

    After learning of this ridiculous 14 day return policy I decided that I will shop the competition, and there is a lot of competition out there, before EVER going back into a B & N store. They just lost a customer. I will be passing on this bad customer relations of B & N to other family and friends that are readers.

    Whatever happened to making things convenient for the customer and valuing them, especially in this economy?? B & N sure doesn’t seem to care or want the business. With the economy the way it is I don’t think this is good business practice.

  13. Barnes and Noble is Unreasonable.My 82 year old neighbor received books as a gift from from his daughter. His daughter checked off the wrong shipping address and the books were sent to her by mistake . She re-boxed the books and sent them on .She notified of the error. The books arrived 2 weeks later . My friend wanted to return the books . The books were not touched.. I called and was advised to take them to the store . Having difficulty walking my friend could not go to the store . I went to the store a week later and the return was refused . Manager said policy .I called again they did not understand why the return was denied.and said i could try another location or send the books back at my expense. I Another week passed , I decided to send the books back . I called annd was told they can no longer return the books since the 30 day return policy lapsed.If I was not sent to the stores I would have been able to send the books back. I have emailed 4 times . My emails are never addressed, the only answer I get is a link to their return policy. My friend wanted to use the credit for a nook since he has trouble holding books and getting out. Makes no sense turning customer business away . I will not walk into a bn store or do bu. The books in untouched condition Shameful to deny an exchange.What and bn stores need to learn is Policy is needed . To run a good bussines you need to learn how to bend policy .$200 in books sitting untouched

  14. um… it’s because people were buying the books, reading them, then returning them. in addition, a receipt is now required because people could bring in a book from anywhere and try to return it to barnes and noble as long as they sold it. they are not the only book store out there. even more so, what is to stop someone from coming into the store, grabbing a popular book off of the shelf, and taking it up to the front registers to return it? the truth is, their old return policy was lax. honestly, two weeks isn’t long enough? just save the receipt and stop complaining.

  15. I so agree. I got 3 copies of the Settlers of Catan extension pack for my birthday, luckily 2 people thought to save their receipts. I tried to return one to B&N but because the receipt was 20 days old, not 14, and didn’t specifically say “gift receipt” at the top, they refused to let me exchange it for things I could actually use. If I had known I would’ve made it a priority to get in more quickly.

  16. In-store policy stinks, I agree but the online return policy should be in bold when you bu from a third party. I bought a book it came a week past the due date, at that point I had bought another book,it was a gift I needed to have. When I returned the book and confirmed delivery I called B&N to see how long until refund would be issued. They said they have no authority over these issues and third party sellers are not bound to B&N in any way. It is up to me to chase the refund. Personally, I thought (I believe it is implied)that going through B&N was safer than going to some total stranger, Apparently not.

  17. Yeah, I had no idea they had changed their policy, until I learned the hard way. They don’t even allow textbook returns anymore in store. If you return them in store (even in under a week!), they will only give store credit. People really need to boycott them. amazon wins in the CR department, hands down. Barnes and Noble won’t even respond to my emails to them. They just ignore me, when I don’t have something positive to say about their return policy.

  18. I tried to return items I purchased last month and learned the hard way about this policy. I left the store with a gift card, which is unsatisfactory. I’ll use the card, though; and I will then never buy anything from Barnes and Noble ever again. In the 21st Century, there are other places to buy a book, and I’m very thankful that those stores have better return policies.

  19. Yep, just found out I can’t return a duplicate purchase (both from B&N for Christmas) because it’s been 20 days. Snow and roads here made it impossible to travel until a few days ago. I rarely shop B&N anymore (Amazon all the way). This is the last time ever.

  20. I agree. I have alot of DVDs from there, that I have received as gifts, that I need to return. I’ve lost my job and bills are stacking up and seriously need the money. Can’t return them because of no receipt. This is unacceptable!

  21. I agree. I have alot of DVDs from there, that I have received as gifts, that I need to return. I’ve lost my job and bills are stacking up and seriously need the money. Can’t return them because of no receipt. This is unacceptable!

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